Listening to NPR…they had an hour with a neurologist who was studying hypergraphia–the desire to write!–which is evidentally a recognizeable brain chemistry in some people (she mentioned that it’s symptomatic of certain types of temporal lobe epilepsy) and by extension the sort-of opposite, writer’s block. While writing was her thing, she mentions that it appears to extend to creativity in general–you get people like Van Gogh who paint pretty much every waking minute in what was practically clinical mania.
The extension of this, of course, is that if the desire to write–and we’re not talking just random nonsense on a page, but actual coherent writing–is a recognizeable chemical process in the brain, then presumably it’s induceable. The theory is thus that one could induce creative drive–better living through pharmaceuticals!–to either make someone creative, or break creative block, and so forth. It’s all theoretical, and I couldn’t presume to guess at the legitimacy of the science behind it, but it’s an interesting theory.
My brain is doing an interesting tap dance between “YES! Cool!” and “NOOOOOOOO!”
The “Yes” part is probably obvious–who wouldn’t want a chance to break artist’s block? On an absolute scale, it’s not quite as bad as dismemberment, but it’s certainly worse than a paper cut. But at the same time, I don’t think that a jolt of creativity is neccessarily applicable to my variety of block–I never have a problem with ideas. I can have a dozen ideas before breakfast. Ideas are easy. The problems lie in execution, in getting the ideas to settle down and fly right, in getting one idea to assume dominance, instead of having them fight like cats in a sack. There was an issue of Sandman where an author buys one of the nine Muses and keeps her locked in the attic. As punishment, Dream curses him to unending ideas–he has so many, he goes nuts, he can’t act on any of them, he winds up writing the ideas in blood on the walls just to try and get them all written down. I first read that and went “YES. I know that exactly.” Although I’m more inclined to use a pen. (This is why when people attempt to weasel free art by proferring inspiration–usually in the form of their character–as if conferring a gift, they do not get very far.)
Anyway, before I got sidetracked, my point was that MORE creativity wouldn’t much help the creative block for me, although I can see it helping other kinds of block. I don’t need more ideas, I need more focus.
The other side of the coin, that makes me clutch my head and go “NOOOOO!” is the “Oh, great, now people will start thinking that they can’t write because they don’t have clinical hypergraphia” or whatever. And predictably synesthesia came up, and I can still hear the ringing of “I can’t paint because I don’t taste colors!” in my ears. And this, as y’all doubtless know by now, makes Ursula go screaming insane and start bouncing off the walls like a schizoid spider monkey with pinworms.
I’ve said it before, at great length, but I figure it bears repeating–sanity is no excuse. Attempting to claim that you can’t be an artist because your brain doesn’t have some unusual form of hardwiring is crap. Get over it. People set up all these elaborate mental constructs, presumably so that they don’t have to be responsible if they fail. If they’d devote half that much time to art, they’d be in business, but they spend so much time building the safety net, they never bother to get on the tightrope.
That said, I’ll add that I’m not surprised that creativity has a marked brain chemistry–everything does. We’re all just the chemicals in our heads. (It is probably telling that I can simultaneously believe that we have souls and that there is an afterlife, and that we are the products of our physical brain chemistry. I have no problem with this, although I realize that it is irrational and would never attempt to justify it in debate, or force it into a textbook.) Where was I? Oh, yeah. Of course creativity is chemical. Doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. So is happiness, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be crazy to be happy, and can’t aspire to happiness unless you’ve got some disorder with a Latin name. Could the responsible brain-thingies, then, like other types of brain chemistry, be extracted and concentrated and injected in a walloping explosion of creativity? Well, why not? It’s science fiction, but not as far out as it used to be. I feel on some level that such a notion should bother me–that I ought to be protesting my inviolate creative spark and complain that that’s cheating–but actually it doesn’t bother me. (That it doesn’t bother me, bothers me a little, if that makes any sense.) But really, if that works for somebody, great. It’s like pearls. Cultured pearls are fine and lovely and cheap–but people will still pay for the natural ones, and the stuff you pry from an irritable wild oyster has no less lustre for the fact that there are pearl farms elsewhere in the ocean. So even if somebody invented a Creativity Cocktail tomorrow–wouldn’t bug me.
Particularly since creativity and a quarter will buy you a newspaper–it’s the skill to render/write/express/whatever that’s hard.
Addendum: James adds the following food for thought–”What if you suddenly got hit with a mega-dose of creativity and wanted to create and didn’t have any of the skills to paint it or whatever, so that it was all locked in your head?” Nasty thought. Although I suppose that’s what creative types all go through for most of our lives–we’re just trying to perfect the skills to get the ideas out in the best way possible. Still, the I-can’t-paint-what’s-in-my-head is an awful feeling–getting a chemically enhanced Mega-Dose of that would suck donkeys.
I’m off to NC in a coupla hours, so responses may be delayed…
Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.